Changing Planet

Saluting Changila

Update on January 28, 2013:

Dear friends of Changila,

I am deeply moved by all your letters, which I have read over and over again. Thank you.

I share your feelings of rage and sadness. It will be a long battle to put an end to this “legal” and illegal ivory trade. I do not have any answers, but we can make our voices heard: Tell them, the Kenyan authorities, to stop the illegal trading of blood ivory. And ask the Chinese authorities to close the door on ALL ivory coming into and out of China or being sold in China. They should help in every way to put an end to BLOOD IVORY TRAFFICKING. They should close all ivory shops.

The killing of elephants continues. Last night under the full moon, three of our elephants were killed. Nearly all our big bulls have gone, gone to ivory trinkets, and among our studied elephant families in northern Kenya, we already have five orphaned families in which every senior female has been killed, leaving small groups of orphans to find their way in the battlefield without leadership.

Thank you all for your heartfelt messages.


On January 3 Oria Douglas-Hamilton flew in tribute over the mutilated remains of an elephant named Changila, slaughtered outside Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve. He was killed the day after her 80th birthday.

By Oria Douglas-Hamilton

Flying with the vultures, I salute you Changila, to say farewell. You will now return to the earth where you and I came from a long long time ago. Piece by piece, vultures will take you away and bury you, leaving only white bones by the river to mark your grave, where you stood that last moment in your life. We did not know you well, but you were named Changila, “Fighter.”

You came from the north in December, as you always do. Now at 30, having survived droughts, war, and floods, you stood tall and strong, heading south in full musth over well trodden paths, leaving a scent trail behind, your trunk sweeping the ground as you searched for fertile females to mate with. The land was lush and green after the rains. Butterflies fluttered from flower to flower, and step by step, your great big feet crushed the long grass stems. Like all warriors, you came to fight, to do what you were known for. Did you leave us an heir in your kingdom?

The new year had just begun. We’d seen you here and there for a few days, and then you disappeared, walking back west. Oh yes, people saw you—you were so determined; no one stood in your way. You drank and washed and crossed the river. Alone, you stood on warm earth pondering your next move while the sun’s rays lit the sky red. The day was ending.

Gunfire broke through the silence of dusk, and you fell.

I apologize for man, my species. You did not deserve this.

Changila destroyed by poachers, January 3, 2013. Photo courtesy of Chris Leadismo, Save the Elephants.


As I flew over you, I scanned the eroded gullies on the hillside, wondering where the men had been sitting, watching, waiting for you to turn and face them, guns at the ready. They hit you not once but two, three, times, and you fell. I saw your leg covered in dark red blood. Your eyes were open. Did you see them as you were dying, coming toward you with their axes? And then, without a moment to waste, demented, they hacked into your skull, just below your open eye, your blood spattering those hands that would steal the prize you carried: two beautiful tusks, white like your bones will be, but stained with blood.

I will never forget your face, so savagely butchered. Rage fills my heavy heart, Changila.

Where will your tusks go? They will leave Africa, hidden in dirty sacks, in boxes, trucks, and stores, changing hands from man to man. No one will know who you were, where you lived. You will be like thousands of others, unknown, abused, and used. One day, a piece of you will be cut into myriad items.

I’m sorry, Changila. May your name live forever—we will miss you.


Oria Douglas-Hamilton

In 1997 Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton established the Research Centre in Samburu to study the elephants that frequent the reserve and range beyond it. Four years later Oria opened Eco Camp, Elephant Watch, where guests can go out daily to spend intimate hours with the known elephants. Changila was one of the few remaining big bulls in the area.





More from National Geographic Magazine

Ivory Worship
Thousands of elephants die each year so that their tusks can be carved into religious objects. Can the slaughter be stopped? By Bryan Christy.

Family Ties: The Elephants of SamburuBy David Quammen.

Africa’s Elephants: Can They Survive? By Oria Douglas-Hamilton.

Wildlife conservationist Oria Douglas-Hamilton is a trustee of Save the Elephants, a charity based in Samburu National Reserve in the Great Rift Valley, Kenya. Save the Elephants carries out rigorous studies of elephants, including elephant collaring and sophisticated elephant-tracking techniques. Through the charity, she has worked to support, protect, and increase awareness of issues that threaten African elephant populations and their habitats. Oria and her husband Iain Douglas-Hamilton co-authored two award-winning books, Among the Elephants and Battle for the Elephants, and have made numerous television films. Douglas-Hamilton has appeared in a number of wildlife documentaries,  including a three-part BBC documentary, The Secret Life of Elephants, which explored the lives of elephants in Samburu reserve and the work of the Save the Elephants' research team. Oria and Iain also co-wrote "African Elephants: Can They Survive?" in the November 1980 issue of National Geographic, which documented the havoc caused by ivory hunters and human population pressure.
  • Pat Morris

    Dear Oria,
    So very sorry for your loss. I hope you can turn the pain of this horrific sight into energy to keep fighting the good fight to protect his kin from similar fates. Thank you for all you do!

  • Tracy Elsen

    All of us at WCN are thinking of you, Iain, the STE staff and all of the elephants through this news. Thank you for giving your voice to the elephants, and for all that you are doing to protect them. We are here to help in any way that we can!
    Tracy & the WCN team

  • Ann Early

    I was so fortunate to go on safari in Kenya in June 2011 and to visit magical Samburu. Obama the elephant visited my tent after dinner at the Elephant Bedroom Camp, putting his tusks on the screen beside my bed, giving this safari novice the thrill of a lifetime. I visited as an innocent, not yet aware of the escalating crisis. Not long after I returned home, enthralled and in love with Africa and its wildlife, my innocence was shattered, first by the killing of Khadija in July, then by the August Vanity Fair article. The elephants are on my mind every hour, and I scour the Internet for signs of hope, for solutions, for ways to help, for anything to ease this heartache even for a few moments. I can only imagine what it is like for those of you who live in the midst of this holocaust of the elephants you love. Oria, you expressed the terrible sadness of the loss of Changilla with exquisite beauty. All of us who love them from afar are with you in spirit. I am trying to spread the word here in my little corner of the world. Thank you for all you are doing, may better days be just around the corner. Much love to you and everyone at Save the Elephants from North Carolina.USA.

  • bourse france

    Salut tous le monde,

  • Adan hassan mohamed

    I feel like we as kenyans aren’t doing enough to protect this majesticaly made elephats i hope changila didnt in vain my heart is with u Hamiltons.

  • Nandita Gupta

    Is it possible to saw off the tusks of all elephants so that poachers have nothing left to poach for and the animals are left to live? I believe its been done for rhinos (their horns) in India

  • martina stamm

    :'( Tears in my eyes, it’s so horrible that i don’t find words for this. Please stop this cruelity!

  • philip muiruri

    its very painful as our elephant keep on being killed for ivory…let’s join hand to fight poaching.

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